Celebrating Nepal's Presidential Election Female Power Rising : Prem Khatry
When a cheerful and victorious Bidya Bhandari greeted the crowd from her hot chair at the Shital Niwas ceremony on October 29th, the rain was simply greeting the occasion, or so thought many present there to wish her well. Bhandari had written history with a difference.
After all, Bidya Bhandari made history, the UML made history, and Nepal's republican political system and the parliament made history also by electing a female leader to the presidential post. Bidya Bhandari's predecessor Dr. Ram Baran Yadav also made history by remaining on the nation's top job for more than seven years. His debut as the nation's first president and successor of the nation's last king is a history of its kind.
Two Constituent Assembly elections scoring failure and success are also part of the contemporary history with Dr. Yadav as the chief role player. The drafting and promulgation of the new constitution will go down in history as the most important page with him as the guardian and symbol of Nepali nationalism, national integrity and still-debated federalism. However, the president was not as jubilant as expected while exiting Shital Niwas, it was reported. He had in his mind the Madhes issue still not fully solved, and it was not a pleasant experience for the outgoing president.
On the other hand, for Dr Yadav's successor, successes one after another in a very linear way have been remarkable. That the chair Dr. Yadav left behind for her is not always a bed of roses is true. However, for a strong lady of Bhandari's capacity, the top job is just the other one with a difference. People who know her well believe she will spare no stone unturned to discharge the duties and responsibilities thrust upon her.
Also, Bhandari came as the embodiment of consensus both in her own party, the UML, and a host of others, including the UCPN-Maoist and RPP/Nepal. Her own style, her political history and the chain of situations she has crossed through indicate that she will successfully play the mostly ceremonial and often active role as the nation's first female president following Mrs. Seremavo Bhandaranayake and her daughter Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka and Mrs. Shova Patil of India in south Asia.
Compared to these historic personalities of the SAARC region, Bhandari has some complications to face directly at the moment. As her predecessor mentioned in his wish, there are burning issues to be solved. And in fact, as she ascends the top chair, she finds that one part of Nepal is burning day and night, rendering the jubilation of the birth of the new constitution a chaotic situation in the green and fertile plains of Nepal.
This year, this festival season to be precise, marks the rise of feminism as an effective political and cultural symbol in Nepal. Two prominent ladies with their revolutionary histories in the back rode to the two most important as well as powerful positions within one week.
Onsari Gharti, the former Deputy Speaker of the House, climbed one step further up and grabbed the Speaker's chair without much hassle and special effort. Her training and experience as the deputy speaker will make her new job relatively comfortable in terms of handling the responsibility. Commentators feel that with her strong history as a (People's) war veteran, Onsari will sail smoothly through.
President Bidya Bhandari's career is full of struggle to prove her worth and rise. Her induction in the cabinet 18 years ago could have been a surprise for many even in her party rank and she was mostly seen as following the shadow of her dynamic husband, Madan Bhandari. But with her electoral successes one after another and with special caliber to defeat top leaders like Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Daman Dhungana, Bidya Bhandari surprised many beyond her party ranks. She was no longer a shadow; she was real, dynamic, versatile and capable. This identity remains and has considerable influence on the body politic as well as on the Nepali people in general. Within the UML, she was a force to reckon with, and the UML has rightly done so by nominating her to be the second president of the nation.
Bidya Bhandari's election has not only enhanced and boosted the morale of the large contingent of female cadres of her party as the chairman of their organisation, this historic event has also had a positive impact on the women from all walks of life, females beyond any one political party or region. She has proved she is invincible, popular and accountable. As we live in an age of rampant corruption, insecurity of females, multi-faceted exploitation, and weaker law and legal system, her occupation of the nation's topmost chair will have considerable impact on mending the ills surrounding the fair and weaker sex of the nation. This is time for celebration and be sure that nothing goes wrong to stop women from moving forward in all direction.
President Bidya Bhandari and Speaker Onsari Gharti are two important female icons whose life can inspire many. Now political parties will also feel the pressure to strictly follow what they say during election campaigns in terms of respecting women's rights and inducting them more in the rank. For several years to come, Nepal will be showing feminine power to the world outside and creating a just and discrimination-free society within.
Finally a quick, running tip to our leaders through the newly elected president will be in order: a) redefine our relationship with our neighbour on the south - say borders are a symbol of mutual trust and respect, not open farms for vegetables or overnight incursion; b) make it clear to our Madhesi leaders that they must realise Nepal has borders with China, and it is functional, you can go and stage a 'dharna' at the Kerung Pass to see and feel the change and go to Kailash, but before that, hand the power over to the new generation who will understand the need to keep Madhes, pahad and himal united, assimilated and integrated for development; and c) keep one recognisable political party that addresses your issues, do not exist as a mouthpiece for someone else across the border - north, south, east or west. This is how Durga Bhawani seems to have blessed us all during the Dashain festival, 2072, if we all listen to the call of time.